Death is only useless when it is an end in itself. One of the saddest human experiences is the death of a child. Whatever age the child is, the grief of a parent is staggering to the extent that mourning may continue for years. As difficult as it is; even more unbearable, is the death of a family member or a friend who dies believing in nothing. Death without faith leaves one feeling empty and betrayed by existence that was got on credit. The Uganda Martyrs teach us not to leave our life to chance or end up dying uselessly.
HISTORY OF TRUE RELIGION BUILDS PERMANENT ADMIRATION IN ANY SOCIETY
In the history of the great religious; every now and then, we encounter exceptional people who prefer physical execution rather than betraying their cause cf. 2Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14. The brothers and their mother who are featured in this biblical text were tested but did not surrender their faith. At a time of great persecution, they believed and even though the awareness of a life after death had only recently taken hold among the Israelites, they clung to it with a tenacity that was contagious. Each brother strengthened the other with his professed belief in eternal life.
That belief did not lessen their pain or shorten their suffering, but it enabled each of them to accept that death, however horrible, cruel and unjust it was. This is the backbone supporting the theology of martyrdom. A martyr is that human person who is obliged to seal friendship with personal blood. Among the known martyrs, we have the ‘Holy Innocents’ cf. Matthew 2:13-18. In this belief, they lay their hope and we who hear their story are inspired by them to make hope our sure shelter in every adversity.
We need to learn that hope works in these ways. It looks for the good in people; it discovers what can be done; it regards problems, large or small as opportunities; it pushes ahead when it would be easy to quit; it ‘lights the candle’ instead of ‘cursing the darkness.’ If ever anyone had just cause to grumble, it was the family that was unlucky to be existing during the regime of Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
A Greek ruler of the Seleucid dynasty, this second-century B.C. tyrant attempted to affirm his authority by forcing Greek culture on all of his subjects or King Herod who out of useless anger ordered mass murder of infants. Even today, the Holy Martyrs of Uganda from St. Charles Lwanga, through Kizito to Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa illustrate some of the atrocities that are perpetrated on those who refused to comply to ungodly orders. They turned their pain into wisdom.
MARTYRDOM FORMS OUR CONSCIENCE UNIQUE
In telling the story of the seven brothers and their mother in 2 Maccabees, the Holy Innocents, Matthew chapter two and Holy Martyrs of Uganda; the Holy Spirit wishes to present our audience with heroes whose example can encourage similar faithfulness and true patriotism to God and resistance to any injustice and tyranny. This spirit of resistance fosters the formation of a group of international citizens known as the hasidim/pious ones. In former times, these forerunners of the Pharisaic party became fierce defenders of the law and traditions of the Jewish people. While others were coerced to accept anything, the hasidim remained strong and fought to
keep their heritage intact. This is what Africa in general and Uganda in particular needs today. Amidst so many religious and pushy cultures; we need to walk the talk of faith because in the long run this is what will last forever.
MARTYRDOM DOES NOT DEFINE BUT REFINE OUR FAITH
Where there is indelible faith, any movement born out of it eventually erupts successfully as it happened during the rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus around 167 B.C and Uganda Martyrs in 1885 to 1886 plus others who have followed in 1918 in Paimol. Here, it was not sheer military effort that won the war against the unbelievers, it was their faith. Their unity as a family, their refusal to sin and obedience to the Law of Moses turned the tide of persecution into hope in an unending life.
Their suffering encouraged them to remain faithful rather than surrendering. If the story of Holy Martyrs of Uganda is read in its entirety, it becomes clear that this is more than a gruesome narrative. With each martyr’s torture comes a declaration of his faith in what was then the developing doctrine of a personal resurrection.
While the hope for everlasting life motivated many, there were some among the Ugandans of their time who refused to accept this doctrine. Among these were the executioners, who observed only what was convenient. While continuously celebrating the bravery of our fellow citizens, St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Jesus helps us to understand that heaven has its unique guidelines always ready to keep us integral.
LEGACY IS MORE THAN MERE IDEOLOGY
Whenever people are living together as a community, they need to agree on some common guideline so that their aim, mission and vision is achieved. These guidelines are what we call the ratified fundamental law of governance. For many Nations, the oldest written national
document still in operation is the Constitution which defines the principal organs of government, their jurisdictions and the basic rights of all citizens. In sense, the Community of St. Charles Lwanga and companions found itself in circumstances comparable to any Nation. Certain events had made it necessary for them to define it as unique.
When Kabaka Mwanga and his jealous advisers planned to destroy the new faith, the Roman Catholic and Anglican Missionaries found themselves at crossroads. In order to survive, a group of Christian thinkers, under the leadership of lay Christian leaders took refuge in Buddu and set up the new base for their faith that asserted faith in one God as interpreters of the law and regulators of Christianity. Part of their efforts at reorganization included the expulsion of pagans and other heretical groups from their midst among them the sorcerers.
The place which had been notorious for false divination was converted into the CITY OF MARY (VILLA MARIA) Precisely around 1912 and 1939 AD respectively, Uganda would get its first Roman Catholic Ordained Priests in the persons of Fr. Victoro Mukasa and Fr. Bazilio Lumu followed by Bishop Jeseph Kiwanuka with Masaka being the first African Diocese in the South of Sahara in the modern times.
Ugandans who had been officially expelled from the centre of civilization became the pivot of education and national economic hub. Because of the breach between Church and Buganda Kingdom, the increasing number of rural Christians became the force to reckon with. The blood of the martyrs painted them the unique of Christian faith which was able to expel doubt and ignorance. In addition to establishing its identity, this community also organized itself around a new source of authority. The believers were clean hygienically, could read and write while others could express themselves fluently in foreign languages. This is what martyrdom theology is able to do. When the excited think that it is over; divine intervention makes the impossible possible.
THEIR DETERMINATION DECIDED THEIR DESTINY
Whereas formerly determination had been their guide and inspiration, it became necessary for adapt, as it were, a new law or constitution. In the Great Sermon of blessed are those who suffer for doing good, the martyrs were able to find a new identity and provide a new authority of pulling masses towards Jesus. Jesus came not as abolisher but as the fulfiller of the law that there is no greater love than laying down one’s life in order to archive a better cause. In practical terms, these witnesses proved that love of God has no comparison.
For Uganda Martyrs, Jesus, in His words and works became the new source of authority and assisted them to find their true identity, Jesus called them to live according to the spirit of the anawim, the humble remnant who declare dependence on God the source of their life and joy.
Called ‘blessed’ are the poor in spirit who have surrendered self-will, selfishness and every other base of security in order to welcome the reign of God. Also blessed are the sorrowing, the lowly, and those who hunger and thirst for holiness. These are basic dispositions that are necessary for believers to identify themselves and become open to receiving divine gifts.
The final four beatitudes in Matthew 5:8-12, describe those whose dependence on God has made them sharers in the task of preaching and furthering his reign. The merciful, the single-hearted, the peacemakers and the persecuted are thereby blest because of their identification with Jesus, in his person and in his mission.
MARTYRS TRANSFORMED THEIR PAIN INTO GAIN
In real life, there will be losers and winners; there will be times of devastating doubt when one wonders why all this? Why do we have to die? Why do we suffer? Why are the innocent persecuted? In such times, the words of Jesus and the experiences of our holy martyrs remind us that ‘if it were not for hope, the heart would break’. Through their example, Jesus challenges us to reaffirm our belief in season and out of season.
No one can convince others that death is easy. The untimed and unknown end of life is a fearsome, but unavoidable aspect of human experience when one’s genuine faith is at stake. However, the inevitable experience of death, both by the dying and by those left behind is very much determined by our perception of this great mystery. Faith confirms to us that we are Children of the resurrection. Even in the face of death, we can be confident that our Father is God of eternal life.
Martyrdom inspires us to avoid the tendency of being born scared. To be courageous is not only a virtue but a grace that believers achieve when they pray, witnesses and stay steadfast. Heaven is not fiction but a reality for those who are willing to abandon everything for the one truth that matters. Like the Holy Martyrs of Uganda, we have to be steadfast not to lose the battle of holiness. We have to be holy and capable.
Today, the beatitudes which are the constitution for the new people of God invite us to consider anew our dependence on God, to acknowledge Him as the supreme authority and to live in faith under His care and love. Martyrs encourage us never simply to go through pain but to grow through pain.
BY FR. PAULINO MONDO MCCJ